Debut author S.D. Thames joins us in this episode of CrimeFiction.FM to discuss his new book, a legal thriller set during the 2008 housing crisis in Florida, FORECLOSURE.
SD Shares his thoughts on the book and his protagonist, David Friedman.
We discuss the 2008 housing bubble and how it affected Southwest Florida where this book is set.
S.D. Shares some advice he received from a friend and how implementing that advice made for a much richer character in the book.
We discuss the issue of finding the time to write when you’re busy with work and family. For S.D., the “magical” writing time is early morning.
Purchase FORECLOSURE at Amazon
Author’s Website www.sdthames.com
The Interview: Foreclosure, by S.D. Thames
Stephen: Welcome back to CrimeFiction.FM, where we bring the authors of today’s best novels directly to you. I’m your host, Stephen Campbell, and I’m here with S.D. Thames, the author of a fantastic new legal thriller, “Foreclosure,” which was released last month. S.D, welcome.
S.D. Thames: Thanks a lot for having me on your show today.
Stephen: I have to tell you, this book of yours hit a lot of hot buttons of mine in terms of reader interest. I really enjoy legal thrillers, I love crime fiction set in Florida. I really love crime fiction set in Southwest Florida, even if it’s a fictional town. Then you throw in a situation that I lived through myself and you’ve got something that caused me to start reading the book on a Friday night and finish reading it on a Saturday morning. So it was pretty much a straight through read except for a few hours of sleep. I loved the book, and I’m thrilled that you’re here with us today.
S.D. Thames: Well great, I’m glad to be here, and I’m a big fan of your podcast. I read that you are located in Naples, and I thought, “Well, this might be something that would interest him,” so I contacted you and very grateful that you’re having me on.
Stephen: We’ll get into why it’s something that I lived through but first let’s talk about the book. Give us sort of the story line for the book and that’ll probably become fairly obvious to listeners what it was that we both lived through down here.
S.D. Thames: Yes, the title of the book is “Foreclosure.” It is an offbeat legal book thriller really set in 2008 in Southwest Florida. As 2007 is coming to an end, the protagonist, David Friedman, is up for partner, and he’s really a sure shot to make it. But the only problem is that his law firm is changing their partnership rules because of the housing crisis and the recession.
As a result, they don’t make David partner, they tell him they want to see what he can do during the next year to generate some business since that hasn’t been his strong suit. He’s a really good attorney, he’s really good at what he does, but he had not been a rainmaker up until that point and they had never expected him to be a rainmaker. But in the new economic climate they want to see if he can make some rain.
So he considers leaving the firm but his mentor, Terry Jenkins, talks him into sticking around and tells him if the firm doesn’t do him right he’ll leave with him and they could start their own firm. That encourages him to go out and see what he can do. So he does that, and ultimately he ends up landing what seems to be the client of his dreams. A guy named Frank O’Reilly, who had developed a lot of residential communities in Southwest Florida and with a lot of the money he had made, he sunk it into a new golf front condo project called the Gaspar Towers.
David doesn’t know at the outset but comes to find out that unfortunately Frank is embroiled in years of mortgage fraud and actually a murderous conspiracy to cover that up, which becomes clear as he gets into representing Frank and his companies and ultimately finds himself at the center of it and having to question everything about himself as a lawyer and as a human, really what ethics means.
So it’s very much a novel about that time in Florida but it’s also a novel about legal ethics and just frustrations I think that anybody has with where they may be in their career.
But a lot of it, you said you lived through it. It was stuff that I lived through as well. Although everything that happens to David is fictitious but it’s based loosely on things that I and other lawyers were going through during that time.
Stephen: You mentioned that we’d both lived through this down here. I live in Naples, which is a little bit south of the fictitious town that you built for the setting of “Foreclosure.” In Naples, we were hit pretty hard down here like a lot of places in the state of Florida, like a lot of places in the country. But there were these towers that were built right before the bubble burst, and there were these empty towers that just sat there like monuments to unfilled dreams I guess.
At least down here, everybody and their brother was buying presale anything. All you had to do was announce that you were launching a new project, and it would sell out before you even broke grounds. People would look at you as though you were a fool if you weren’t doing that.
Then the bubble burst and you capture that so well in this book. The things that Frank did, Frank a big time developer, a very realistic, in my mind, character because these guys are like gods walking the earth during great economic times. You captured that perfectly, the whole ethos of everything.
Then David who had worked for seven years to become a partner and then the rug is essentially pulled up from under him and everything that he’s going through. It’s just one of these books that just kept me reading because, (a), I wanted to know what happened, (b) I was worried about David, and (c) I was really astounded to find out that this was a first novel for you.
S.D. Thames: I appreciate hearing that. It was my first novel. After I started practicing law . . . well, let me back up. Before that, in undergrad, I majored in literature. I did not really take many writing classes but I felt like I wanted to be a writer but I really felt like I had nothing to write about. I don’t know if that would make sense to a writer or not. But I think really what that was was just my own anxiety about what I was going to do with my life and I ended up going to law school and doing pretty well in law school.
Then I started working out a huge national firm when I graduated. It didn’t take very long that the writing bug came back to me and I just felt this urge to write. I didn’t really have time to write, but I made the time. At that point I actually started by writing screenplays. I wrote one back in ’06 and ’07 and entered it into a contest and it actually got some attention and had landed me a manager for a little while who talked to me about moving out to LA and pursuing that. Unfortunately that was right when the events in “Foreclosure” were happening and it just didn’t make any sense to walk away from the job that I had in that economic climate to pursue something that I still thought at that time was a pipe dream.
So I stopped writing screenplays. I realized that to write a screenplay and to do anything with it is nearly impossible. It’s hard to sell the screenplay. It’s really just kind of a calling out there to get you possibly and your foot in the door for another kind of job. But the writing bug didn’t leave me and I decided to try my hand at commercial fiction and I had learned a lot from studying screenplays about structure and just plot, things that I hadn’t studied in literature. Literature was all really about theme and meaning and the politics of what you’re writing or reading.
But studying film, I learned a lot about plot structure that I’ve been able to apply to fiction and I think that made writing this novel much easier. I wrote it over a course of a few years and when you include the time I spent revising and editing it but yeah, I’m very grateful to hear that you were surprised it was a debut novel.
Stephen: One of the things that makes a novel great in my mind is the observations of the character. That’s what brings the setting to life and makes the character interesting. In David, you have someone who sees the world in his own special way and we’re able to see the world through his eyes during this time of intense pressure.
There were some scenes in there, there’s one scene in particular. Early on in the book there’s a cocktail party for developers where Frank O’Reilly is going to be named developer of the year or something, some sort of an awards banquet for him. David is there just making observations on the characters at that party, and it was as though you were channeling John D. MacDonald when David was making those observations. I actually highlighted that section so that I could go back and read it again. That’s always a good thing when it appears as though you were channeling John D. MacDonald.
S.D. Thames: Yeah, I’m very flattered by that. He’s one of my favorite writers. He’s the kind of writer, sometimes I read his book and I want to just put it down and give up on writing because I think I could never do that, just some of his descriptions and his characterizations. So to hear that certainly makes my day, thank you.
Stephen: He had such a unique way of looking at Florida and what was going on in Florida and even though a lot of it was 30, 40 years ago, it’s still seems true today. A lot of the same issues, it’s still the environment, the development, all these different things that are going on. Another one of the features of David, the protagonist in the book, is his interest in music. I’m wondering if that comes from you.
S.D. Thames: It does come from me. I also play the guitar like David. When I was in high school I wanted to be a rock guitarist. Unfortunately, I did not pursue it because I really don’t have the skills to do it. When I finished an earlier draft of the novel, I gave it to a friend of mine, a good friend of my brother’s who likes crime fiction and he read it and provided me with some comments on David and what he thought was lacking.
At that point, there really wasn’t much of the music there. So I did a revision and I fleshed that out and I think it made the world of a difference for the novel. But yes, I’m a big fan of music and you could say I can really relate to his frustrations there.
I think anybody who used to play a guitar or any kind of instrument once you get into a demanding profession you miss it and you yearn for the days when you had time to pick it up and play it. So I was able to channel that into his character and his situation in much different way and I even had it interrelate to his father who was an excellent blues musician who died when David was in high school. So that cast a dark shadow over his life and, really, the music for him it just becomes part of the character arc.
Stephen: It’s interesting that what you just described, the idea of a friend telling you that something was missing and then putting in the music, it’s not like you had to rewrite the whole story to put the music in. It’s just interspersed throughout the story in little bursts. There are occasionally some song lyrics that tie in perfectly with what’s going on in his mind and then just the thought of this guitar that just keeps popping up through the story. It really did help to flesh David out in a way that made him much more likeable I think.
S.D. Thames: Yeah, it was really a good learning experience for me and I’m very grateful to the guy, Jason, who provided those comments, so I’m glad to hear you enjoyed that.
Stephen: All right. As I understand it, this fictional town that you created was essentially Fort Myers, Florida.
S.D. Thames: Yes, it is based loosely on Fort Myers.
Stephen: Okay. I live in Naples which is, depending on how you go, it’s maybe 35 miles south of there and Fort Myers, Cape Coral, Lehigh Acres. The area there was sort of a fault line almost for the economic collapse and the housing crisis and the entire area down here was devastated. Now we’re seven away from that and housing prices are starting to skyrocket again. Are you starting to see any parallels?
S.D. Thames: Yes, I think that the entire process could be starting all over. Down in Miami we’re back to having bidding wars on condos whereas just a few years ago what you said about your condos there in Naples was also the case down there. You had a lot of projects that were just sitting vacant and now they’re having bidding wars on those. So yeah, I don’t know that we really learned much of anything from the debacle. It does seem like everybody is gearing up to do it again.
I guess the only difference maybe is the banks are not as ready and willing to lend the money out. I think that was the thing that really made what happened in ’07 and ’08 possible, that the banks were just lending money to anybody and then selling the paper. I don’t think that we’re back to that point yet but I do think as prices continue to increase we could see that happen again.
Stephen: You mentioned that it took a couple of years to write the book. Where do you find the time in between a demanding law practice and a family? Where do you find the time to actually get the writing in?
S.D. Thames: You just have to make the time. I’ve tried experimenting to see how that works for me and in general it works best if I just wake up early and do it before I do anything.
I think that there is something magical about getting out of bed and just starting writing, even if you have it outlined and you know where you’re going. But for me that is when I produce some of my best writing.
I also have to just fit it in wherever I can. If I have a little time on lunch break, I’ll pull out my laptop and work on it. If I’m travelling, I’ll do it at the hotel or I’ll do it at the airport or at the coffee shop, wherever I am at. You just have to make it a priority and get it down like you do anything else in life because the time is not there but I just have to make it.
Stephen: All right. One last question, this is something that I ask to every attorney that I’ve interviewed that writes crime fiction. What makes attorneys so good at storytelling?
S.D. Thames: I think it’s because we deal with conflict and stories at their core really are conflict. If you try to write a story that doesn’t have any conflict it’s going to be pretty damn boring. We deal with conflict every day and we learn how to deal with it. I’m a litigator so I deal with dispute resolution, I help my clients resolve conflict.
I mentioned that when I was an undergrad I didn’t feel like I really had anything to write about. Well, now after I’ve been a lawyer for 11 years, I feel like I don’t have enough time left on this earth to write everything that I’ve been inspired to write. So it’s just a combination of this profession and I think a lot of it is the characters we run into too. There are some very eccentric characters out there in the legal profession and in the clients that we represent who, again, make excellent fodder for fiction and stories.
Stephen: So what’s next for you?
S.D. Thames: Right now I’m working on a new mystery series that I am 99% sure that I’m going to publish as serials. It’s going to be titled the first part at least, “A Mighty Fortress.” It’s about another transplant from the Northeast who moves to Florida. His name is Milo Porter.
He’s a private investigator who works for lawyers, that’s his bread and butter, but he moved here, he’s a war veteran, he has post-traumatic stress disorder and he moved down here just to get away from everything and to enjoy the sunshine and try to live a laid back life but he still finds himself getting in lots of trouble. It’ll be a series, unlike “Foreclosure,” which may have a sequel or two down the road, but it’s not something I envision being a series. But what I’m working on right now will be an ongoing series that I hope to have several follow-ups on.
Stephen: Okay. That sounds wonderful. Where can people buy “Foreclosure”?
S.D. Thames: They can buy it at Amazon, I have it on Amazon right now exclusively and if you can just search for “Foreclosure” novel or S.D. Thames, T-H-A-M-E-S, and that should pop up. I also have a few short stories on there that I think are worth checking out for people who like legal thrillers.
Stephen: What’s the best way for people to keep up with you? You’ve got this new series with Milo Porter coming out, so how should we follow you and your work?
S.D. Thames: You can go to my website, that’s www.sdthames.com and there there’s a link where you can sign up for my newsletter which will let you know when the first Milo Porter comes out and you can also connect with me on Facebook or Twitter. My Facebook is Facebook.com/SDThames and my Twitter handle is @SDThamesFL. I had to add the FL onto SDThames for Twitter to get that handle.
Stephen: I have that same FL at the end of mine.
S.D. Thames: Yeah, it was taken.
Stephen: Thanks so much for being with us today. I appreciate it.
S.D. Thames: My pleasure. I really appreciate it too and thanks for your podcast, it’s great
From the Publisher:
It’s just business—but it’s about to get personal for hard-nosed lawyer David Friedman when the housing crash of 2008 derails his shot at partnership with Southwest Florida’s most prestigious law firm. Given a year to prove he can make rain during the economic drought, David rolls up his sleeves and lands the client of his dreams—Frank O’Reilly, a real estate developer embroiled in dozens of lawsuits and hell-bent on turning a profit during the recession. Little does David know that Frank’s company is involved in a murderous plot to cover up years of mortgage fraud in the Sunshine State.
As David prepares for a trial that will make or break his career, he discovers that a secret investor in Frank’s company is responsible for murder and will continue killing to hide the truth. The only thing David can’t figure out is whether Frank is the conspiracy’s victim or its mastermind. To answer that question, David must risk far more than partnership as he unravels one dark secret after another about his client, his law firm, and, ultimately, himself.
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